Mother to Son

Mother to Son

by Langston Hughes

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

Summary of Mother to Son

  • Popularity of “Mother to Son”: Langston Hughes, a famous American poet and columnist, wrote the poem “Mother to Son” as a famous dramatic monologue. It was first published in the magazine Crisis in 1922. The poem is about a mother giving advice to her son about the challenges of life. It also illustrates how sometimes life becomes too heavy, but a person should never give up.
  • “Mother to Son” As a Representative of Reality”: The poem comprises the thoughts of a mother whose life is surrounded by misery. However, she knows that the best means of combating these situations are her abilities to be strong. While talking about her experiences of life, she says that life has never been a “crystal stair” for her. It has gaps, splinters, and places without carpet. Despite these obstacles, she has managed to move ahead. She encourages her son to follow her to push through life. To her, optimism and ability to overcome the adversity are the only ways to surmount obstacles in life. What enchants the readers is the undaunted struggle of a mother during her tough time of life.
  • Major Themes in “Mother to Son”: Hardships, hope, and courage are some of the major themes of the poem. The poem explores the dignity and determination of a person when facing problems. The speaker compares her life to a ragged staircase and conjures up an idea that one should not give up. She says that life is full of tests, challenges, and confusion and a person should confront with courage and determination. Throughout the poem, she instructs her son to continue his struggle with patience, resilience, and hope, giving her own life’s example.

Analysis of Literary Devices in “Mother to Son”

Literary devices are tools that enable the writers to present their ideas, emotions, and feelings with the use of these devices. Langston has also employed some literary devices in this poem to show the courage and optimism of a mother. The analysis of some of the literary devices used in this poem has been given below.

  • Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “So boy, don’t you turn back”.
  • Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ and /r/ in “Where there ain’t been no light”.
  • Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things with their five sense. For example, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair”, “And places with no carpet on the floor” and “Don’t you set down on the steps.”
  • Allusions: Allusion is a belief and an indirect reference to a person, place, thing or idea of a historical, cultural, political or literary significance. He has used this device in the opening line of the poem such as, “Crystal Stair” refers to Jacob’s stair from the Old Testament in The Bible.
  • Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. Langston has used an extended metaphor to compare the mother’s life to a staircase throughout the poem.
  • Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings different from literal meanings. Similarly, “Staircase” symbolizes hardships. It also symbolizes the life that we spend.
  • Enjambment: Enjambment refers to the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet or stanza such as,

“Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.”

A careful glimpse at this literary analysis shows that Langston has skilfully employed these devices to express the sentiments of a mother and the reality of life.

Analysis of Poetic Devices in “Mother to Son”

 Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  • Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain any specific patterns of rhyme or meter. “Mother to Son” is a free verse poem which does not follow any rhyme scheme and stanza pattern.
  • Stressed and Unstressed Syllables: These two types of syllables are used in trochee such as the first is stressed and second is unstressed syllable in “Mother to Son” and this pattern continues throughout the poem such as, Life for me ain’t been no crystal
  • Repetition: There is a repetition of the line “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” which has created a musical quality in the poem. It has also created rhetorical impacts in the poem.
  • Refrain: The lines that are repeated again at some distance in the poems are called refrain. The line, “life for me ain’t been no crystal stair” is repeated with the same words, it has become a refrain on account of its repetition.

 Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below can be used when motivating children to rise again after failure and face the challenges of life confidently.

Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And splinters,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
Bare.